Andy Borgmann
YMIN400 - Christian Values in Human Sexuality
Dr. Steve Gerali
April 21, 2004
Religious Attitudes Towards Sexuality: A Psychological and Theological Look Into the Erotic
Through out centuries past, Christianity and sexuality have had a chasm between them that, at times, has appeared larger than the one cast between Lazarus and the rich man. As early as the 2nd century, Gnosticism crept into the Christian tradition causing the theological dilemma of pleasure. Although Gnosticism was eventually eradicated and deemed a theological heresy, remnants remained, especially in the area of sexuality. The outcome was centuries of theology centered on an abstinence approach to pleasure in sexuality. Eighteen centuries and a sexual revolution later, the American church found itself in the late 90's having to come to terms with sexuality, largely stirred by the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. While there has been significant progress made by the church in its attempt to combat an anti-pleasure approach to sexuality within the confines of marriage, there is still much that hasn't been brought to the pulpit and public forum. Sex is often discussed in sermons, but rarely is it defined. Given the external influence of media and stereotypes, many Christians walk away still confused as to what are legitimate expressions of sexuality within a marriage. Issues such as mutual manual-stimulation, oral and anal sex, and sexual fantasy are rarely if ever discussed in the context of marriage. Due to the silence on the topic, many by default assume that theologically, these are not appropriate within a God-honoring marriage. When theology and psychology are examined further, not only does procreative, "missionary-position" sexuality indicate it was created to be pleasing, but the entire realm of eroticism was designed to be shared between a man and a wife as a transcendent experience that can only be compared to worship.
Before one can approach the topic of erotic sexuality, one must first come to terms with that which has been stereotyped as the accepted form of sexuality within the church. The term "missionary position" is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman in which the woman is on bottom and the man is on top. Missionary position sexuality has been labeled by the church and secular alike as the position in which God designed sexual relations to occur. The term itself indicates a tie to Christianity through a belief that missionaries taught this position as the only acceptable position to the "savages" they encountered. However, there are a couple of problems with this belief. First of all, the earliest the term "missionary position" is found in writings is 1962. Before 1962, the term "English-American position" was used, however, even that was first used in 1929. Although English-speaking missionaries had been sent out for centuries before the 20th century, the term and the teaching are not necessarily identified with the position.[1] The second problem lies in that there is no single documented situation in which missionaries taught the missionary position to natives on ethical or theological grounds.[2]
Despite the lack of evidence regarding missionaries in the field, church authorities from the 6th to the 16th century taught that the missionary position should be the desired position of sexuality except in the case of pregnancy, illness or obesity. The biblical text is quite silent in regards to the issue of sexual positions. Typically the church would appeal to nature in order to support its stance for the man-on-top/woman-on-bottom sexual position. Especially in regards to the ventro-dorsal, or "doggy style," church authorities would point to the fact that animals do it in this position, and therefore is not acceptable for the soul-filled human. [3] Historically, Protestants had emphasized in teachings that sex should be painful and an assigned duty of marriage.[4]
In addition the historical-theological roots of the man-on-top/woman-on-bottom sexual position, a quick survey of US laws also sheds light onto the situation. Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina all have laws that make it illegal to have sex in any position that is not the "missionary position."[5] Given the church's historical-theological stance and the US's historical-legal stance, it is not hard to see why the issue of sexual positions within the church is not addressed. Nevertheless, centuries of potentially poor theology and years of potentially impotent and uninformed laws should not stop one from pursuing the truth regarding God's design of sex.
Proceeding from the historical look at the theological bondage placed on society, one must now examine the current research relating to religious identification and sexual attitudes. Over the past 20 years, much research has been done in the area of sexual attitudes. For the purposes on this article, Hendrick and Hendrick's "Sexual Attitude Scale" and Fisher, Byrne, White, and Kelley's "Sexual Opinion Survey" will be examined.
The Sexual Attitude Scale asked questions in four categories: permissiveness, instrumentality, sexual practice, and communion. Permissiveness items were questions like "I would like to have sex with many partners"; instrumentality items were questions were like "sex is primarily a bodily function, like eating"; sexual practices items were questions like "a man should share responsibility for birth control"; and communion items were questions like "a sexual encounter between two people deeply in love is the ultimate human interaction." In Hendrick and Hendrick's initial research they found that those who participated in the survey and identified themselves as very religious scored lower in comparison to others in the area of permissiveness, instrumentality, and sexual practice.[6]
Le Gall, Mullet, and Riviere Shafighi's took Hendrick and Hendrick's survey to 800 French adults aged 18 to 87 with the specific intent of making distinctions in attitudes in the categories of age, gender, and religion.
In the category of permissiveness, younger individuals (3.08) were more permissive than older individuals (2.59), non-religious believers (3.03) more permissive than religious believers (2.65), and men (3.07) more permissive than women (2.61). The mean score was 2.84, which means those lower were generally non-permissive, and the those higher were generally permissive.[7]
In addition to Hendrick and Hendrick's categories, Le Gall, Mullet, and Riviere Shafighi's also added the category of pleasure to their survey. The overall mean score was 3.89, meaning those under 3.89 felt sex was less than pleasurable and those over 3.89 was more pleasurable. According to the study, men (3.90) scored higher than women (3.77), younger individuals (3.93) scored higher than older individuals (3.74), and nonbelievers (3.91) higher than believers (3.75). It can be concluded from this study that those who are younger, nonbelieving, males had the most pleasurable sexual experience, while older, woman, believers experienced the least pleasurable experience.[8]
This research could conclude that those religiously oriented do not enjoy sexual relations as much as those who aren't religious. This is supported by Byrne and Schulte's study which indicates that erotophobes (those who fear sexuality) often come from those religiously oriented, and Koss, Reigelsperger, and Bassett's research which finds that fundamental Christians are more negative towards sexual behavior than non-fundamental Christians.[9] Further research has been done by Basset, Smith, Newell, and Richards regarding religiousness and sexual attitudes.
The first element of their study was to identify the participants as intrinsic or extrinsic in their faith. Typically it can be understood that intrinsic believers are true believers; choosing to believe in their religion for no external motivation. Extrinsic believers are those who believe in a religion for external reasons (i.e. church is a social circle where friends are made). The Undergraduate students reported to be more intrinsically faith minded, where as the graduate students were less intrinsically faith minded. However, both had high average scores and generally perceive themselves as Christian. After faith levels were established, age distinctions were made. In this case, two groups were surveyed: Undergraduate students (mean age = 19.0) and Graduate students (mean age = 36.6). Out of the Undergraduate students, 92.6% were single, 4.1% were engaged, and 3.3% were married; for the Graduate students, 25.3% were single, 3.8% were engaged, and 70.9% were married. A series of ten scenarios were then asked to each group ranging from "embrace and kissing" to "folding through clothing" to "oral sex" and "sexual fantasy" within three different contexts: dating, engagement, and marriage. All students were to answer if they felt each scenario was appropriate for each particular relationship.[10]
The basic trends that surfaced from the study is that the younger, "more faithful," generally single Undergraduate students scored more negative in attitudes relating to sexuality than their older, "less faithful," generally married Graduate counterparts. As far as the specific scenario breakdown, only using X-rated material and anal sex were perceived as inappropriate scenarios for married couples across both samples. There is not much dissention between the groups in regards to married couples. It appears that the attitude is that as long as it within the context of marriage, erotic sexual scenarios are appropriate for a husband and a wife. The major point of dissention was in regards to dating and engaged couples. Younger, Undergraduate students
Mean Evaluation Scores for All Three Relationships & Scenarios
Embrace and Kiss
Fondle Through Clothing
Hand Up Shirt
Caressing Genitals
Using Contraceptives
Using Erotica (Porn)
Sexual Intercourse
Oral Sex
Anal Sex
Sexual Fantasy
4.0 > Unfavorable 4.0 = Neutral 4.0 < Favorable
appear to think most actions besides kissing are not appropriate until marriage; where as the older, Graduate students are a little more lax when it comes to the standards of sexual scenarios for those dating and engaged. What isn't clear from this study is the difference because of a faith-commitment level difference, or simply just an age difference.[11]
Given the results of this particular study, there are a couple of key observations to make and questions that arise. It appears that Christian believers for the most part have the understanding that most scenarios of sexuality within a marriage are acceptable. However, it has been shown already that historically and theologically the church and the state have been particularly negative towards such "non-traditional" sexual scenarios. The question that arises then is to what authority are people turning in order to seek approval for their actions. Further research needs to be done in order to figure out why Christians feel it is acceptable to participate in non-traditional sexual scenarios? The second question that is raised by these findings is in light of the statistic that 85% of all people exclusively practice the missionary position within their own sex lives. [12] Although the source is somewhat questionable (About.com is a fairly reputable source of information on the internet), one must ask is there delineation between what people say they support and what they actually practice, especially under the context of faith?
There is one more psychological element that must be discussed before moving into the theological section of the article, and that is the context of marriage. In the past 50 years, marriage has become put off later in one's life, and is no longer the exclusive publicly-accepted context in which a sexual relationship is to take place. But is this a good thing? Take all religious morality aside for a moment, and one is faced with the psychological question: is marriage the best context for a sexually intimate relationship?
Typically, frequency is observed as a health indicator of a sexual relationship. According to research done by the University of Chicago, those that were in a monogamous marriage had sex more often then any other group that was also participating in the study. In addition to that, those surveyed also indicated that the level of enjoyment in their sex lives was also higher than other groups.[13] But frequency and pleasure cannot simply be the litmus test for something as complex as intimacy. According to a survey done by Shere Hite, woman are more able to invest themselves into their relationships sexually when there is the security of a monogamous, long-term relationship.[14] In addition to that, sex cannot be understood as an act in of itself, but rather a process. Given that sex is a process, it must mean that sex is learned. Sex is designed to be experience, adapted, and embraced over the long period of time.[15] Although marriage is not the only long-term context in which this could occur, marriage by nature is a long-term relationship, where as other sources of potential long-term contexts are not by nature designed to be solely long-term. It is precisely these long-term relationships where sexuality is at its maximum potential for fruition. Judith & Jack Balswick write:
The personal value system determines the spouse's unique way of being a sexual personÉAn important aspect of marital growth has to do with a couple's ability to attend to and grapple with differences. For instance, if either spouse is uncomfortable with some aspect of their sexual relationship, it is imperative that they can speak about their differences without being judged or feeling ashamed. Labels like "prudish" or "overly sexed" have no place in this discussion, for such responses only serve to undermine and condemnÉThe key is that both spouses are working for the good of the relationship toward a loving resolution.[16]
Between frequency, satisfaction, and intimate depth, marriage provides the context for truly fulfilling sexual activity through life's changes.
It has been established thus far that those who are religious have slightly more negative opinions of sexuality than those who are not religious. However, it has also been indicated that those who identify themselves as religious are somewhat supportive of a diverse amount of sexual scenarios within the right context. The appropriate context for all of this is found to be an intimate, long-term marriage. However, with all that said, what is the theology of an erotic sexual relationship shared by a man and a woman in a marriage?
In order to understand the erotic element of marital sexuality, one must first understand the initial design of sexuality. Genesis 1:28 states the first commandment from God to humanity is to be fruitful and multiple. While this does not necessarily imply erotic, pleasurable sexual activity, it does indicate from the beginning that God designed humans to be engaging in the act of sexuality. It is interesting to note that in verse 22 God also gave the commandments to the birds of the air and the fish of the sea to also be fruitful and multiple. While some might feel it is odd that God gave the same commandment to mere birds as His prime creation of humanity, scripture points to the fact that nature itself indicates humanity is to be partaking in sexuality.
The Genesis writer continues to elaborate on the depth of the relationship between Adam and Eve by explain in Genesis 2:24 that the context of marriage provides the motivation to leave previous bonds in order to create the ultimate bond shared between humans. Naked, these two newly-created beings stood before God and with each other. While nakedness does not in of itself translate to erotic sexuality, or sexuality at all, nakedness does indicate that their knowledge of each other from the beginning had no boundaries – there was nothing hold them back. While the events of Genesis 3 later force God to reconfigure the boundaries, nakedness is not expunged from the situation, only the public nakedness of humanity. Nowhere in the discourse of chapter 3 does God remove the initial design of nakedness, sexuality, or intimacy from the picture of humanity. Biology indicates that God continued to sustain sex to be pleasing simply by taking a look at the female body. All woman have an organ called the clitoris that serves no other purpose except to provide her sexual stimulation and pleasure. This is just one physical example that forces once to conclude that God intended sexuality to remain as it was designed as pleasurable and erotic, despite the fallen state of the world.
Thus far, the theological look into sexuality has been procreational and could simply be defined as sexual intercourse. There is no direct hint of pleasure, only procreation. There is nothing about eroticism, only intimate knowledge of one's partner. Knowledge cannot be the end all, and the scriptural meta-narrative continues to Song of Solomon to highlight the truly erotic element of sexual intimacy.
The first striking elements of Song of Solomon are the detailed descriptions of the human body made the lovers. While the contemporary, English translations are little water-downed, it is clear from both Solomon and his beloved that they are quite observant of their physical and sexual features. Compare the language they use to describe one another:
Solomon's Beloved
Song 4:1 How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Mount Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. 3 Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with elegance;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle that
browse among the lilies.
6 Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. 7 All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.
Song 5:10 My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.
11 His head is purest gold;
his hair is wavy and black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves by the water
streams, washed in milk,
mounted like jewels.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spice
yielding perfume.
His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh. 14 His arms are rods of gold
set with chrysolite.
His body is like polished ivory
decorated with sapphires.
15 His legs are pillars of marble
set on bases of pure gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as its cedars. 1
6 His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
The language used in Song of Solomon is not only exotic and highly sexualized, it is mutual. Notice the detail in which the man notices the sexual beauty of the woman. He goes as far to complement her breasts. It does not necessarily seem odd that a man would notice such things, but how odd is it that in the Word of God do one is allowed to notice such things. In addition to that, the woman also is very attentive to the sexual beauty of the man. This writing is not just another ancient example of a patriarchal society in which the male is allowed to be a sexualized individual while the woman is expected to keep pure in mind and soul. The beloved woman has just as much sexual revelation to the narrative as Solomon does.
While Song of Solomon is a beautifully written, poetic narrative, it is precisely the degree of poetry that leaves many modern days believers confused as to the meaning of the text. For example, in Solomon exclaims in 7:8 that, "[His beloved]'s stature is like that of the palm and your breast like clusters of fruit. I said, I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." Not only is Solomon expressing his desire to fondle and manual stimulate his beloveds breasts, he indicates that he wants to climb up to them, indicating a starting position down by her genitalia. This is further highlighted Song of Solomon 4:16 in which the highly eroticized and poetic language would indicate that beloved's desire for Solomon to perform cunnilingus (oral sex) on her. Some have even interpret Song of Solomon 2:3 as the beloved's desire to perform fellatio (oral sex) on him.
The other strikingly interesting element of the eroticism found in Song of Solomon is that the woman in particular is sharing her emotions and feelings with her fellow "daughters." These women are most likely maidservants, but there is a good possibility they were younger than the beloved woman. It is somewhat odd theologically then that the church refuses to talk about the erotic with its youth in fear of the adding to their pubescent curiosity. Scripturally it appears that while the act of eroticism should take place in the private confines of an marital relationships, the discussion of the erotic does not necessarily have to be left to the private. In fact, it appears that scripturally desirable to talk about erotic in order to encourage a healthy understanding of God's creation and of the deeply sexual relationship shared between a man and a woman.
Some have attempted to interpret Song of Solomon like the book of Hosea as a literary piece that is used to describe God's feelings towards Israel. They would then downplay the erotic elements shared between a man and a woman, and indicate that the expressions are only poetic metaphors of God's love. There are two problems that arise with this interpretation. First of all, the book of Hosea makes it clear that the metaphors are in relation to Israel because by the closure of the text, the resolution has been brought back around to Israel. Nowhere in Song of Solomon does one find the narrative ever pulled back to Israel. Israel is never mentioned in the text, nor is God. The second pitfall of this theory is that even in the book of Hosea, God does not use metaphors that are not taking place within the culture. Although He uses prostitution to explain Israel's treatment of their relationship, which is a negative element of society, He uses a positive metaphor in that He does not create actions out of nowhere in order expresses His feelings. Same would be true for Song of Solomon. Even if the book was written to express God's love for Israel, He would be pulling from metaphors that He expects humanity to be feelings and practicing. Therefore, if Song of Solomon is not simply about a man/woman relationship, it is at least about both a man/woman relationship and God's relationship with Israel.
Paul is widely recognized as the apostle who encouraged celibacy from his disciples. However, he also writes to those who are married and encourages them to recognize that their bodies (or sexuality) does not just belong to themselves but also their spouse. 1Corinthians 7:1-7 states:
3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
While a spouse should never demand sex within a relationship, biblically speaking there is an obligation a spouse has to on another to give oneself over to that spouse. Given that sex is a process and learned, this passage should not be taken out of context in order to demand specific sex acts and a specific time. Rather, this passage should illuminate the open communication required by a marriage in order to share fantasies, desires, and preferences with the spouse. Within reasonable time and communication, spouses should be willing to give each other over to one another. This giving oneself over does not simply get labeled to the erotic of sexual acts, but to the holistic intimacy of the relationship. As Judith and Jack Balswick state:
We believe that every couple must find a balance between [sex and intimacy] in order to blend them in mutually satisfying ways. Women may need to stretch themselves in sexual areas, whereas men need to challenge themselves in the emotional dimension" (emphasis added).[17]
God has designed us to not only be sexually for procreation, and sexually for erotic pleasure, but He has also created us sexually to be intimate. It is in intimacy where one finds God's fingerprints on the process, and where one finds God Himself.
So then how is sexuality applied to the church's modern predicament? One, the church needs to be a model of healthy eroticism. This means talking from pulpits, sharing in small groups, and modeling in private conversations that the erotic is not something to hide, or is dirty, but designed by God to be part of a healthy marriage. No longer should the church hide behind the vague statements of "sex was designed by God and designed to be good." Rather, the church should get comfortable with the erotic. Let believers know that sexual intimacy does not just mean sexual intercourse. Let congregations realize that it alright to get wild and crazy with your spouse. Let the youth know that sex does not end at marriage like every source of media throws at them.
God designed sexuality to be pleasurable and erotic. Teaching otherwise is not only theologically unsound, but it has the ability to put followers in bondage. Sex needs to be taught a gift from God that should be appreciated to its fullest. Hopefully it will not take another sex scandal or sexual revolution for the church come to grips with the erotic and be the source of truth and life in regards to sexuality.

Balswick, Judith K., and Jack O. Balswick. Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Bassett, Rodney L., Heather L. Smith, Robert J. Newell, and Anna H. Richards. "Thou Shalt Not Like Sex: Takign Another Look at Religiousness and Sexual Attitude." Journal of Psychology and Christianity 18, no. 3 (1999): 205-216.
Berger, Rose Marie. "Managing the erotic life." Sojourners 31, no. 3 (Sp 2002): 45.
Gall, Armelle Le, Etienne Mullet, Sheila Riviere Shafighi. "Age, religious beliefs, and sexual attitudes." The Journal of Sex Research 39, no. 3 (Aug 2002): 207-216.
Gerali, Steve. "Introduction to Sexuality." Lecture taught at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA on January 11, 2005.
Hite, Shere. The Hite report. New York: Macmillan, 1976.
Laumann, E.J., R. Michael Gagnon, and S. Michaels. The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Priest, Robert J., Jonathan Benthall, Kenelm Burridge, James Clifford, Michele D. Dominy, Alan Dundes, James D. Faubion, Neville Hoad, Sjoerd R. Jaarsma, Lothar Kaser, Rita Smith Kipp, Tanya Luhrmann, Peter Pels, Judith Shapiro, and Sjaak Van Der Geest. "Missionary Positions: Christian, Modernist, Postmodernist." Current Anthropology 42, no. 1 (Feb 2001): 29-85.
Rosenau, Douglas E. "A Theology of Sexual Intimacy: Insights into the Creator." Journal of Psychology and Christianity 23, no. 3 (2004): 261-270.

Semans, Anne. "Missionary Position." About.com, 2005 [on-line]. Available from http://sexuality.about.com/cs/sexualpositions/p/missionary.htm?terms=sexual+positions; Internet; accessed 20 April 2005.
Stayton, William R. "A theology of sexual pleasure." SIECUS Report 30, no. 4 (Sp 2002): 27-29.

[1] Robert J. Priest and others, "Missionary Positions: Christian, Modernist, Postmodernist," Current Anthropology 42, no. 1 (Feb 2001): 29-30.

[2] Robert J. Priest, 32.

[3] Robert J. Priest, 39.

[4] Rose Marie Berger, "Managing the erotic life," Sojourners 31, no. 3 (Sp 2002): 45.

[5] Robert J. Priest, 40.

[6] Armelle Le Gall, Etienne Mullet, and Sheila Riviere Shafighi, "Age, religious beliefs, and sexual attitudes," The Journal of Sex Research 39, no. 3 (Aug 2002): 207-208.

[7] Armelle Le Gall, Etienne Mullet, and Sheila Riviere Shafighi, 209.

[8] Armelle Le Gall, Etienne Mullet, and Sheila Riviere Shafighi, 210.

[9] Rodney L. Bassett, Heather L. Smith, Robert J. Newell, and Anna H. Richards, "Thou Shalt Not Like Sex: Taking Another Look at Religiousness and Sexual Attitudes," Journal of Psychology and Christianity 18, no. 3 (1999): 206-207.

[10] Rodney L Bassett, Heather L. Smith, Robert J. Newell, and Anna H. Richards, 208-210.

[11] Rodney L Bassett, Heather L. Smith, Robert J. Newell, and Anna H. Richards, 212-213.

[12] Anne Semans, "Missionary Position," About.com, 2005 [on-line]; available from http://sexuality.about.com/cs/sexualpositions/p/missionary.htm?terms=missionary+positions; Internet; accessed 20 April 2005.

[13] E.J. Laumann, R. Michael Gagnon, and S. Michaels, The Social organization of sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[14] Shere Hite, The Hite report (New York: Macmillan, 1976).

[15] Steve Gerali, "Introduction to Sexuality," (lecture taught at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, CA on January 11, 2005).

[16] Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick, Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 152.

[17] Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick, 155.